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‘RiffTrax Live: Doctor Who – The Five Doctors’ (review)

Doctor Who began it’s life in 1963 on the BCC and has more or less endured as an always reliable source of cheap sci-fi fun.

Sure, the show was cancelled in 1989 and lay dormant until the disastrous 1996 attempt by FOX to make an American version (with Eric freaking Roberts in the role of The Master). After that pilot movie failed it would go back into hibernation until 2005 where it would find a new generation of fans and become arguably a lager pop culture phenomenon than it had ever been before.

The new incarnation would become a staple of sci-fi programming and also give us two spin offs (The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, with Torchwood even having it’s own ill conceived US version) and more than one TV movie.

And yes, there were two high profile Doctor Who films with Peter Cushing in the mid 1960’s, but even the BBC considers those to not be real Doctor Who so we shall as well.

Back in the 1980’s though it was a high time in the Who arena with good ratings and soaring popularity culminating in 1983’s TV movie special presentation which brought all of the previous Doctors together alongside the current hero for a single adventure. This would be the celebratory 20th Anniversary special.

The BBC had always found the Doctor Who serials to be a ratings smash and an audience favorite and it would still be a few years before a change in management at the BBC would bring the series to a crashing halt despite strong ratings. This special was a true celebration for fans of the series in not just the UK but in the United States as well.

While Great Britain was open about it’s love for Who in the US it was a little different.

Doctor Who was very popular over here but more in an underground manner. Never achieving the cache that it’s 2000’s version would in the 1980’s the show was aired only on PBS and still carried with it the stigma of “nerd culture”. The poor FX, goofy costumes and shot-on-video appearance did not help this. But still the series was always a ratings grabber for PBS so much so that during pledge drives it was usually a Doctor Who marathon that brought them the most money. Hell, The Five Doctors TV special actually aired on PBS in the US two days before it aired in it’s native England.

This week Rifftrax takes aim at this iconic gimmick telefilm.

With a knowing history and awareness of where this lands in the hearts of fans the Rifftrax guys take a fun and layered ride with the legacy of Doctor Who.

The jokes are in the normal range of Rifftrax lore from the obvious to the nerdcentric but you can tell watching this that the BBC asked them to go easy here (the boys give a backhanded acknowledgement of this at the end while thanking the BBC). This though does not in any way hamper the fun of this live riff… it just happened to be something I noticed.

As with most Rifftrax Live events they use a short film to warm things up and this time it’s another safety film but in keeping with the British theme it’s a British one and wow… the Brits don’t screw around. This was Play Safe, a late 70’s short about being careful around power lines and yeah… they KILL two of the kids in this one. Damn. Even the cute cartoon owl lecturing the audience can’t make that not feel brutal. The 70’s and 80’s really were a time when kids were not safe on film, even in a safety film.

This being a live event errors do crop up and The Five Doctors was no exception. Right off the bat there was a problem getting the video feed to the Riffers so they had to go off their timed scripts which led to many of the first 4 minutes of jokes being mistimed some. But that is why Rifftrax LIVE is so cool… you don’t get that stuff in the regular trax.

This was a fun live experience and while you may have already missed it last night it will be rebroadcast on August 24th so make sure to check it out.


For ticket information, visit


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